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CANNES 2024 Critics’ Week

Review: The Brink of Dreams


- CANNES 2024: Egypt’s Nada Riyadh and Ayman El Amir follow a group of young women as they challenge longstanding norms by starting an all-female street-theatre troupe

Review: The Brink of Dreams

At a highly tense festival, marked by snowballing #MeToo revelations in the French film industry, the protagonists of The Brink of Dreams [+see also:
interview: Nada Riyadh, Ayman El Amir
film profile
unknowingly align themselves with the feminist movement. Without being exposed to feminism, they are intimately familiar with the oppressive nature of the patriarchy and are proactively pushing back. In a strictly traditional and dogmatic environment, they boldly address topics such as underage marriage and the undermining of women's aspirations. 

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In this Cannes Critics’ Week title, Nada Riyadh and Ayman El Amir document their story over six years: two spent on research, four on shooting. And, oh, how they've been able to tap into the vibrant pulse of these young women. Alongside the directors, we, the spectators, are also granted a rare insight into the intimate workings of family households, and we are privileged enough to overhear private conversations and see behind the scenes of the rehearsals. Yet, it feels like a warm welcome, rather than intrusive voyeurism. “Come, come,” these stage artists reassure us: “You can look, we trust you.”

Although there are several members in the troupe, three stand out: stage directress Majda (Majda Masoud), dancer Haidi (Haidi Sameh) and singer Monika (Monika Youssef). Throughout the filming process, these women remain the consistent core of the group.

It is a film of two halves. In the first section, we follow the troupe as they navigate their artistic journey. They negotiate better rehearsal spaces, create improvised stages from tables and execute guerrilla marketing strategies by making noise in the streets. This segment is brimming with energy and conflict as these women grapple with the tension between their artistic ambitions and the rigid societal constraints.

While still passionate, the second half takes a more introspective turn in dissecting patriarchal restrictions. As Majda grapples with the challenges of enrolling in university, during a deeply poignant phone exchange, Haidi reassures her fiancé that she isn't some frivolous girl. Also, consider the Machiavellian dialogue between Monika and her fiancé. It’s heartbreaking to watch Monika’s partner’s attempts to control her choices by claiming that her earning her own money as a singer would cause her to disobey her husband-to-be. The aforementioned dialogue highlights that patriarchy functions well as a subtle form of manipulation sneakily wrapping the woman around her future husband’s finger. Not all men are puppeteers, however: Haidi’s dad supports her every decision.

Before our eyes, these playful and ambitious teenagers grow into insightful young women. In the streets, as confused men watch, they collectively proclaim that their bodies aren’t sinful, that they wish to extend their childhood and wear a dress, and that others should not stifle their dreams. The urgency that has as individual undertones gains a wider momentum expressed in unison.

While one expects there to have been a large volume of rushes after four years of filming, the result is focalised – no abstract notions, long introductions or clutter. The film is humble and empowering; all of the pieces fall into place to create a wholesome coming-of-age narrative. What prevails is a strong sense of community and being there for each other.

The final scene offers solace to Majda, Haidi and Monika – other young girls of the Nile take over the street-theatre tradition, reassuring us that there will be continuity.

The Brink of Dreams, which features vivid cinematography courtesy of Dina El Zeneiny, Ahmed Ismail and Ayman El Amir, is an Egyptian-French-Danish-Qatari-Saudi co-production, staged by Felucca Films in co-production with Dolce Vita Films and Magma Film&TV. The Party Film Sales is in charge of its international sales.

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